By Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service
Another lesson that stars in the Bible tell us is that we are not alone. The universe is more than just us, and God is responsible for more than our own narrow neck of the woods. First and foremost, we need a dose of humility when approaching that God, as Job discovered:
Jb 38:1-7 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
It is easy to see in those words of Job a reproach for thinking we know it all; clearly we don’t. In the list of the things we don’t yet know, however, I find such an enticing description that I feel I am also being invited to know those things. The Bible’s description of creation is inevitably so beautiful that it makes studying nature — being a natural scientist — the answer to a call from God. It is a holy act.
But what I like most about this passage from Job is the way it personalizes the stars — who are described singing together with all the heavenly beings. Who are these heavenly beings? We don’t know — and, of course, that’s exactly the point.
But they, too, whoever, they are, do take delight in praising God:
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
What does it take to praise the Lord, or to choose not to praise? Such a creature must have the intelligence to be aware that it, and the object of its praise, exists; and it must have the freedom to choose to praise, to choose to love. Intellect and free will are the marks of the soul, the way in which human beings were formed in the image and likeness of God. The writer of the Psalm has no problem postulating such souls in the heavens. Shades of ET!
The moon is one place off Earth where we know there has been intelligent life: us! Even the ancients could see it as a world like ours and speculated on the possibility of other races living there. The bright crater at the top is named Copernicus; like all the major features on the moon, it was named by the Jesuit astronomers Grimaldi and Riccioli in Rome on a map published in 1672. It is interesting that Jesuits would name the most prominent crater on the moon after the astronomer whose theories got Galileo into trouble, a mere 40 years after his trial! (This photograph was taken through the 40 cm refractor telescope at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo by Jesuit Father Manny Carriera.)
There are many places where the Bible makes almost off-hand remarks to other intelligences who love and adore God … or who, in some cases, perished for not recognizing their right relationship with him. In a sense, this science fictional speculation about other creatures in space and time is as old as storytelling, a part of the mythology of all ancient cultures. But if the Odyssey had one-eyed Polyphemus or the twin perils of Schylla and Charybdis, it never bothers to wonder where they came from.
The biblical writer Baruch does wonder, however. And he ends with a delightful vision of the stars, these worshipers in the sky, singing with their bright light to their Creator:
Bar 3:24-35 O Israel, how great is the house of God, how vast the territory that he possesses! It is great and has no bounds; it is high and immeasurable. The giants were born there, who were famous of old, great in stature, expert in war. God did not choose them, or give them the way to knowledge; so they perished because they had no wisdom, they perished through their folly.
Who has gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds? Who has gone over the sea, and found her, and will buy her for pure gold? No one knows the way to her, or is concerned about the path to her. But the one who knows all things knows her, he found her by his understanding.
The one who prepared the earth for all time filled it with four-footed creatures; the one who sends forth the light, and it goes; he called it, and it obeyed him, trembling; the stars shone in their watches, and were glad; he called them, and they said, “Here we are!” They shone with gladness for him who made them. This is our God; no other can be compared to him.
“Here we are!” shout the stars. How unlike those humans, Adam and Eve, who hid at the sound of God’s arrival.
(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, ©1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U. S. A. All rights reserved. Used by permission.)
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